TIME russia

Hollywood Stars Say Thanks But No Thanks to Russia

Western celebrities were once willing to make public appearances in Russia. With few exceptions, the stars have stopped coming

On Aug. 14, the actor Steven Seagal arrived at Russia’s premier weapons expo and, in the company of several arms dealers, strolled to a display of automatic rifles. A crowd of reporters and onlookers gathered around to watch as he handled one of the weapons, some even climbing on top of a military vehicle in order to get a better look. Standing next to Seagal, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin then offered his thanks to the American guest and, given the state of affairs between their countries, acknowledged the costs of Seagal’s apparently undiminished affection for Russia. “A lot of people criticize him at home,” Rogozin told the crowd. “It is not an easy time for him right now.”

The words of sympathy were not misplaced. It is a challenging time for Western celebrities who have made a habit of visiting Russia, either for pleasure or profit. Since President Vladimir Putin annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea in March, the United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on members of the Russian elite, including Rogozin, who oversees Russia’s military-industrial complex—and anyone who does business with the targeted officials risks being sanctioned as well. But for Western celebrities the more immediate danger of a visit to Russia is the damage it could do to a star’s career, says Samuel Aroutiounian, the leading go-between for Russians seeking to hire Hollywood stars to attend events in Russia.

In the decade he has spent in this business, working as a celebrity talent broker for a New York City-based agency called Platinum Rye, Aroutiounian says it’s never been more difficult to line up appearances in Russia, not even basic endorsement deals with Russian companies. The offer of bigger paychecks—which usually range from five to seven figures, depending on the caliber of the star and the outrageousness of the event—has not done much to change their minds. “These people are already super rich,” he says of the celebrities. “So they’re much more concerned about not killing their careers.” And in the current political climate, he says, “They don’t know what will happen to them when they come back home, you know? They will take a lot of heat.”

Even a year ago this was not an issue. The growth in the Russian market for Hollywood movies, as well as what had been gradual improvements in the country’s image in the West, had helped persuade some of the biggest names in Hollywood, like Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons, to make appearances in Russia in the last few years. The local advertising market proved enticing enough in 2010 for Bruce Willis to do a series of ads for a Russian lender called Trust Bank. (In his TV commercials, Willis is shown getting ready to jump out of a speeding van during a car chase when his cell phone rings. “Hello,” he says, “this is Trust Bank, how can I help you?”)

Later that year, a Russian charity asked Aroutiounian to bring as many stars as possible to its gala in St. Petersburg, failing to mention that Putin would use it as a chance to make his musical debut. “I just brought whoever was available,” the broker recalls. “It was winter in St. Petersburg, so for some people it was too cold. Other people had family time, because it was around Christmas.” When Putin got on the stage to sing, wearing a black suit with an open collar, a whole stable of Hollywood celebrities stood up to applaud his rendition of “Blueberry Hill”, including Kevin Costner, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Vincent Cassel and Monica Belucci. “It was one of those moments,” Aroutiounian says, “when even I was, like, ‘Wow, is this really happening?’” (In the clip of Putin’s performance, which has been viewed nearly four million times on YouTube, Aroutiounian stands next to a cheerfully applauding Sharon Stone.)

Like Putin’s many other Hollywood-flavored appearances—including the times he went to watch martial arts with Jean-Claude Van Damme—the “Blueberry Hill” stunt did not merely serve to indulge his vanity. It also helped demonstrate to his electorate and to his foreign detractors that Russia was not a pariah state. It showed that its leader, for all his public posturing with weapons and heavy machinery, wanted to be liked, and without the applause and the acceptance of the international beau monde, his charisma would come up a little short.

Until the events of this year, many American stars saw little problem with their role in this equation, says Howard Bragman, a long-time Hollywood publicist. “Most of the young stars today have no idea what the Cold War is or was, unless they did a movie about it,” he says. “Russia just doesn’t leave the same taste in their mouths that it does for people who are older.” The only downside, he says, is when stars get mixed up in politics that their handlers failed to warn them about, as in the infamous case of Hillary Swank.

In 2011, the two-time Oscar-winning actress went to the Russian region of Chechnya, where she had been hired to celebrate the birthday of its Kremlin-appointed ruler, Ramzan Kadyrov. The resulting outcry from human rights organizations, which have criticized Kadyrov’s record, prompted Swank to apologize for having graced the occasion with her presence. “Shame on me,” she said on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, promising to give her six-figure paycheck for the engagement to charity. “The bottom line is that I should know where I’m going, and do better research.”

Aroutiounian, speaking by phone from Los Angeles, says the pitfalls of the Swank affair now apply not only to Chechnya but to the rest of Russia as well. “Everybody knows what happened when Hillary Swank went to Russia,” he says. “Since Russia is basically in a war right now, everybody is laying low.”

Well, not everybody. There are some American actors who still visit Russia. Mickey Rourke, who came to Red Square on Aug. 11 to buy a T-shirt imprinted with Putin’s face, called the Russian President a “real gentleman,” but added that his primary interest in the motherland was his Russian girlfriend. Seagal took things a bit further. Before touring the arms market on Aug. 14, he became the first American celebrity to visit Crimea since its annexation, giving a performance with his blues band in the city of Sevastopol. Hugging it out afterward with the leader of the Russian biker gang who organized the concert, Seagal declared, “I am Russian,” referring to his Russian ancestry. The crowd went wild, though the statement was nothing new for Seagal. He has long expressed his admiration for Russia and praised what he calls its “wonderful” leadership, and the crisis in Ukraine has apparently done nothing to change his mind.

It has, however, obliged him to take more criticism than usual for his visits to Russia, and it seems to be getting him down. In a statement published on his website on Aug. 13, he said he was “once again deeply saddened” by the Western coverage of his concert in Crimea. “Sadly,” he wrote, “we live in a world where any form of innocence can be twisted for sensational headlines and maybe dark political motives.” Seeing that need to defend his innocence after another appearance in Russia, other stars could be forgiven for simply choosing to stay away.

TIME

Putin’s Approval Rating Reaches Record High in Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russia's President Vladimir Putin smiles while speaking with journalists in Itamaraty Palace in Brazilia, early on July 17, 2014. Alexei Nikolsky—AFP/Getty Images

Russians are also satisfied with their freedom, military and elections

Amid the conflict in Ukraine and growing discord with European neighbors and Western countries, Vladimir Putin’s approval rating among Russians has climbed to its highest level in years, according to a new Gallup poll.

Eighty-three percent of Russians approve of the job Russia’s president is doing. This ties his top rating in 2008 and marks a 29 percentage point increase from Putin’s rating in 2013.

For the first time since 2008, a majority of Russians say their country’s leadership is moving them in the right direction. In addition, 78% have confidence in their military, 64% in their national government, and 39% say that they are confident in the honesty of Russian elections.

But Russians’ positivity isn’t limited to their government. A record high of 65% of Russians said they were satisfied with their freedom in 2014. A significant group–35 %–also said they thought economic conditions were improving.

While Russians are satisfied with their own government, the poll showed they are increasingly turning away from Western countries. Both U.S. and European Union leadership had single digit approval ratings. One country Russians do approve of is China. The poll showed Russians’ approval for China soared this year to a record 42%. In recent months, the two countries have shown close economic ties, signing a $400 billion gas deal this spring.

TIME Ukraine

U.S. Warned Of Unsafe Airspace Over Crimea, But Not Where MH17 Crashed

An armed pro-Russian separatist stands at a site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014.
An armed pro-Russian separatist stands at a site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. Maxim Zmeyev—Reuters

The Federal Aviation Administration warned U.S. air carriers not to fly in a region about 200 miles away from where Malaysian crash occurred in Ukraine.

Earlier this year the Federal Aviation Administration banned American air carriers from flying over part of the disputed area between Russia and Ukraine over safety concerns, but the area where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed on Thursday was not included in this restricted airspace.

The agency warned American aircraft on April 25 against flying over the Crimean peninsula and the surrounding waters after Russia, which had moved to annex the territory, claimed control over that airspace.

“In the FAA’s view, the potential for civil aircraft to receive confusing and conflicting air traffic control instructions from both Ukrainian and Russian ATS providers while operating in the portion of the Simferopol (UKFV) FIR covered by this SFAR is unsafe and presents a potential hazard to civil flight operations in the disputed airspace,” the agency wrote. “In addition, political and military tension between Ukraine and the Russian Federation remains high, and compliance with air traffic control instructions issued by the authorities of one country could result in a civil aircraft being misidentified as a threat and intercepted or otherwise engaged by air defense forces of the other country.”

But the Donetsk region where Flight 17 reportedly crashed is roughly 200 miles northeast from the restricted zone. The map below was included in the FAA advisory.

 

 

FAA
TIME russia

Ukraine Rebels Call Putin a Coward After Russian Inaction

President Vladimir Putin in Kremlin, July 4.
President Vladimir Putin in Kremlin, July 4. Alexei Nikolsky—Itar-Tasss/ZumaPress

Early promises of help from Russia go unfulfilled

The rebel commander in eastern Ukraine was sure Russia’s tanks would soon come grinding over the border to his rescue. He even had an idea of what would provoke the invasion—“130 corpses,” he told TIME. “When they see that on Russian TV, they’ll come and help us.”

That was in the middle of April, and since then the body count in eastern Ukraine has far surpassed that figure. Even the commander himself, who went by the nickname Romashka, is now among the dead, having been shot by a Ukrainian sniper in his stronghold of Slavyansk at the beginning of May. No Russian troops ever came to help him.

For the Ukrainian government that has been a saving grace, allowing its army to force the pro-Russian militants into retreat over the weekend, killing scores of them in the process. But for Russian President Vladimir Putin, this turn in the conflict presents a painful dilemma. His pledges of support for the separatists now seem like false promises to the rebel leaders—and to their many supporters in Russia—and they have begun openly accusing Putin of cowardice and betrayal. The patriotic spell that he cast on his electorate with the annexation of Crimea in March now seems to have lifted, and his sky-high approval ratings are now likely to come down to earth.

The change in tone is already evident on Russia’s propaganda channels, which still depict the rebel fighters as heroes and martyrs—but not a part of any Russian war. “No one is talking about sending in troops anymore. That conversation is over,” says Mikhail Leontiev, one of the leading spin doctors on state-controlled TV. “Now the people need to understand that if Russia falls into this military trap, it will be worst of all for the people of eastern Ukraine, even for the fighters among them,” he tells TIME.

The fighters would beg to differ. In endless missives to the Russian leadership over the past few months, they have asked with growing anger and desperation for the Kremlin to send in troops or at least provide them with advanced weaponry. “We don’t have the means to fight so many tanks,” Igor Girkin, the rebel commander in eastern Ukraine who goes by the nom de guerre Igor Strelkov, said in a video appeal to Moscow on June 19. “I’m still hoping that Moscow has enough shame to take some kind of measures.”

But instead of offering much material assistance, Putin’s allies seem to have launched a slander campaign against Girkin and his men, even accusing them of “crying like women” about a lack of firepower before abandoning the rebel stronghold of Slavyansk this weekend. “He gave up the city without any pressure from the Ukrainian side,” Sergei Kurginyan, another prominent Kremlin propagandist, said in a video denunciation of the rebels. “No one was advancing against him.”

This claim seemed out of sync with the fighting on the ground. For days before the rebels fled Slavyansk on July 5 the Ukrainian army had besieged them, bombarding their positions with heavy artillery and cutting off supplies of food, electricity and water. Indeed, in the first week of June, Kurginyan had himself campaigned for Russia to send military contractors to assist Girkin and his men.

But that was before Putin made his sudden turn toward the role of a peacemaker in Ukraine. His reasons were pragmatic. Western sanctions had already broken financial ties—and frozen bank accounts—that Kremlin elites had spent years nurturing. The next round of sanctions would likely have sent Russia’s economy into a recession, putting at risk the state programs and paychecks that feed Putin’s loyal bureaucracy. A full-scale invasion would also risk a military quagmire that would further drain the Russian budget, as Ukraine’s army has mustered a force impressive enough to put up a serious fight. So in late June, Putin asked his legislature to withdraw his permission for the use of military force in Ukraine, and he began calling for peace talks in league with Western mediators.

The rebels were not the only ones to see this as a sign of duplicity. Russian nationalists have begun to turn on him as well, posting diatribes and even music videos that seek to goad Putin into war, juxtaposing his pledges to “defend the Russian world” with images of bombed-out villages and Russian corpses in Ukraine. “We gave them hope,” Alexander Dugin, one of the leading nationalist ideologues in Russia, said during a television appearance last week. “When we said we’re a united Russian civilization, this didn’t just come from a few patriotic forces. It came from the President!”

And it will not be easy for Putin to back away from those promises. A nationwide poll taken at the end of June suggested that 40% of Russians supported military intervention in Ukraine, up from 31% only a month earlier. This segment of society is largely made up of young, poor and undereducated nationalists, as well as elderly people nostalgic for the glory of the Soviet Union, according to Lev Gudkov, the director of the Levada Center, the independent polling agency that conducted those surveys. After the Russian annexation of Crimea, the euphoria among these parts of the electorate helped push Putin’s approval ratings toward record highs of over 80% “The revival of those strong imperialist feelings, playing on the idea of a fallen nation rising up, all of that ensured the sudden upswing in support for Putin,” Gudkov said. “But I don’t think that can last, probably not even past this fall.”

The all-time peak in Putin’s popularity, Gudkov points out, came right after the Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008, when his approval ratings jumped to 88% before quickly getting dragged down by the effects of the global financial crisis. By the spring of 2009, they were down to 55%—propped up by what Gudkov calls the apathetic mass of civil servants and state dependents who support Putin “because there is not other choice.”

That slump is now likely to recur. The Russian economy is once again stagnating, this time from the effects of the Western sanctions, and there are already signs that consumers are suffering from the resulting slump in the value of the ruble. New car sales, for instance, fell by a remarkable 17% last month, and the estimated cost of developing Crimea—roughly $18 billion—will put further strain on the federal budget. Such bread-and-butter problems are not enough to dissuade the jingoist minority in Russia, and they are certainly not much help to rebels fighting and dying in eastern Ukraine.

But as the last few weeks have shown, Putin is not the Napoleon many of them believed him to be.

 

TIME Opinion

Why Russia Won’t Catch Up in the Space Race

Goin' nowhere: Smiles take you farther than frowns
Goin' nowhere: Smiles take you farther than frowns Bill Ingalls/NASA; Getty Images

It takes a lot of things to run a successful space program, but petulance, anger and impulsiveness are not among them. That's a lesson Vladimir Putin has to learn.

It’s a hard fact of exploratory history that angry people don’t achieve much in space. You have to be patient when you design your rockets, steely-eyed when you launch them and utterly unflappable when you actually get where you’re going.

That stay-poised doctrine was conspicuously at work in the past few days, as two different space projects played out in two different parts of the world with two very different results. On Friday, Russia scrapped the launch of its new Angara rocket—a booster that has been in development since 1994 and has gone pretty much nowhere. Vladimir Putin was personally involved both in overseeing the launch and in authorizing the stand-down—a line of command that would seem awfully strange if it were President Obama on the horn with Cape Canaveral telling the pad engineers what they can launch and when they can launch it.

On Saturday, meantime, NASA successfully tested its Low Density Supersonic Decelerator, a nifty piece of engineering that the space agency admittedly overhyped as a “flying saucer,” but that does kind of look like one and is actually a prototype of a new landing system for spacecraft going to Mars—a place NASA has been visiting with greater and greater frequency of late.

The U.S. and Russia were once the Castor and Pollux of space travel, cosmic twins that dazzled the world with their serial triumphs in the 1960s and ’70s, but they’ve gone in different directions since. America’s manned space program has been frustratingly adrift since the end of the Apollo era, but the shuttles did fly successfully 133 times (and failed disastrously twice) and new crewed spacecraft are in development. The unmanned program, meantime, has been a glorious success, with robot craft ranging across the solar system, to planets, moons, comets and asteroids—and one ship even exiting the solar system altogether.

And Russia? Not so much. The collapse of communism, the loss of Kazakhstan—which put the Baikonaur Cosmodrome, Russia’s Cape Canaveral, in an entirely different country—and hard economic times made space an unaffordable luxury. But now Russia is grimly trying to claw its way back—and the grimness is a problem.

The Angara launch was supposed to take place from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northwest Russia, a new installation intended to re-centralize the space program, getting it out of Kazakhstan and back on home soil. It’s of a piece with a range of Russia’s actions lately, which have, much like the Angara, been more fizzle than flight.

Putin’s Crimean land grab seemed bold if larcenous for a moment, but the blowback has been severe and he’s already backing down from further actions, with his ambitions for a renewed Russian empire limited—for the moment at least—to a single Black Sea island with less square mileage than Massachusetts. His long dreamed-of economic union—announced with enormous fanfare in early June and intended to serve as a counterweight to the 28-member EU—turned out to be nothing more than a table for three, shared with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Ukraine initially RSVP’ed yes, but that was one revolution and one Russian invasion ago, and the new government is once again tilting west.

And so it will probably go with Russia in space. The original space race was no less political than anything Russia is doing today, but both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were operating from positions of strength, projecting their competing power over a sprawling region of client states and taking the duel to the cosmic high ground. Russia today—with Putin calling the shots on when a booster should be launched and the government issuing petulant threats to quit flying American astronauts to the International Space Station—is acting neither strong nor confident.

It is, instead, joining the long list of states that have dreamed of space but sought to power themselves more with rage than rocket fuel. And consider how far they’ve gotten. North Korea? Pathetic. Iran? Please. China? They’re doing great things now, but that only started when they climbed down from their revolutionary zeal and started focusing on the engineering and physics instead of the ideology and slogans.

Russia may once again become the cosmic pioneer it was—and space fans of good will are rooting for that. With the Cold War over, it matters less whether the first flag on Mars or the next one on the moon is the stars and stripes or the Russian tri-color or even the Chinese stars. As long as a human being is planting it, that will be good enough. So the door is always open, Russia. But please, leave the nasty outside before you come in.

TIME Ukraine

Exclusive: Ukraine’s President Seeks ‘Understanding’ With Russia

Merkel Meets With New Ukrainian President Poroshenko
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko Carsten Koall—Getty Images

In his first interview as President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko tells TIME that he has no choice but to keep Russia at the negotiating table, as no country is prepared to guarantee his country's security from further attack

Ukraine’s new President Petro Poroshenko wants to see Russia punished for what he calls the “tragedy” that befell his country this year. But even as Russia has annexed one region of Ukraine and encouraged a violent rebellion in two others, Ukraine does not have the option of breaking off ties with the Kremlin, Poroshenko told TIME in his first interview since taking office. His government has no choice but to seek “an understanding” with Russia, he says, even if for no other reason than the hard reality of Ukraine’s geography.

“Maybe some Ukrainians would like to have Sweden or Canada for a neighbor, but we have Russia,” he said on Monday inside the Presidential Administration Building in Kiev, fidgeting with a set of rosary beads throughout the interview. “So we can’t talk about a firm sense of security without a dialogue and an understanding with Russia.” That is why Poroshenko spent the first full day of his tenure on Sunday in marathon talks with the Russian ambassador to Ukraine, Mikhail Zurabov. Their positions remain miles apart, at best leaving Poroshenko room for “cautious optimism” for restoring civil relations with Russia, he said.

But whatever progress they will make toward a cease-fire between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian rebels in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, Poroshenko has no intention of making nice with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “To be honest, I’m not very interested in what Citizen Putin thinks of my state,” he said. If the Russian leader doubts Ukraine’s right to exist within its current borders, the best way to convince him otherwise is to build a powerful army and a thriving economy, Poroshenko said. “No one would allow himself to doubt the existence of small countries like Singapore,” the Ukrainian President said, “because when a country is strong, effective, comfortable, monolithic, such doubts would never enter anyone’s minds.”

Achieving that will require support from the West, he told TIME, not least of all the kind of military aid that he has been requesting. “We’re talking about assistance that will be able to stop this aggression” from Russia, he said of his discussions last week and this weekend with U.S. and European leaders. “The help can take all kinds of forms, from intelligence to military technology, from blocking our airspace to enforcing a maritime blockade” in case of attack.

Poroshenko said he discussed these kinds of support last week with U.S. President Barack Obama, and brought it up again with Vice President Joe Biden, who attended Poroshenko’s inauguration on Saturday. But no Western nation has agreed to provide any security guarantees to Ukraine, nor have they made any firm pledges to renew the so-called Budapest Memorandum, the 1994 agreement between the U.S., Russia and the U.K. that was supposed to guarantee Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

With the annexation of Crimea in March, Russia violated that agreement, and Poroshenko has since become convinced that even the U.N. Security Council is no longer capable of preventing conflict between major powers. “When one of the veto-holding members of the U.N. Security Council has in effect become an aggressor, that shows that the old system isn’t working,” he said. This argument came up in his talks with Western leaders last weekend in France, and he said they agreed “without question” about the need for the “global security architecture” to be revised. “The struggle for Crimea is a struggle to prevent such precedents from repeating themselves in the future,” he said. “We can’t allow unpunished aggression.”

But punishing Russia is not an option for Poroshenko at this point. The best he can do is to build a military that can prevent a future Russian attack and, at the same time, stay at the negotiating table with the country he calls an aggressor. His goals are modest. Apart from stopping the bloodshed in eastern Ukraine, he wants Russia to offer a new “model of behavior, a model of guarantees” that would restore a sense of stability. So far, he doesn’t have anything close.

TIME russia

Global Perceptions of Putin’s Russia Have Become Increasingly Negative

Russian President Vladimir Putin Holds Council Meeting For National Children's Strategy
Russian President Vladimir Putin speeches during a meeting of the Coordination Council on Implementing the National Children's Strategy for 2012-2014, in the Kremlin on May 27, 2014. Sasha Mordovets—Getty Images

Many people are just not that fond of Russia anymore, according to a BBC survey published this week

Russia under President Vladimir Putin’s iron-fisted rule is losing fans across the world at a precipitous rate, according to a new study commissioned by the BBC World Service from GlobeScan and the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA).

Feelings toward Moscow have increasingly soured in 13 of the 24 countries surveyed in 2014 and are the most negative since the poll was first conducted nine years ago.

“Views of Russia have continued to deteriorate strongly over the past year,” the BBC said in a statement. “In the 20 tracking countries surveyed both in 2013 and 2014, negative ratings have jumped four points to 45%.”

Views of Russia were most unfavorable in Europe, where the proportion of French and Germans holding negative views of the country increased by 6 points to 69% and 67%, respectively. In the U.K., 64% of those polled had negative feelings toward Russia — a 7% increase.

An equal percentage of Americans polled held negative feelings about Russia, representing a 5-point increase in the past year.

Pollsters cited Putin’s increasingly antagonistic behavior on the global stage as the likely stimulant responsible for the increase.

PIPA director Steven Kull said the polling period was one “during which Putin had pressed Ukraine to not move toward the E.U., and when the first riots took place in the streets of Kiev.”

However, at least six of the countries surveyed reported increasingly positive attitudes toward Russia.

China, home to roughly 20% of the global population, holds largely favorable views of its neighbor to the north. Approximately 55% of Chinese surveyed expressed positive perceptions of Russia — an 11-point increase.

TIME russia

We’re Not Impressed With Your Space Tantrum, Mr. Putin

The International Space Station: Putin won't come to play anymore
The International Space Station: Putin won't come to play anymore NASA

An open letter to the Russian leader as his deputy prime minister threatens to ground American astronauts and military satellites

Dear Vladimir,

So you’re not having enough problems digesting Crimea, that half-bankrupt hairball you swallowed because it was there and looked tasty but now it won’t go down and everyone in the world is mad at you? Now you want to pick a fight in space too?

That’s how it seems, at least, after your Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin announced a number of tit-for-tat sanctions against the U.S. today—specifically among them, targeting our countries’ once-cozy collaboration on the International Space Station. According to Rogy, you’ll quit selling us seats on your Soyuz booster—which, since the grounding of the shuttle, is American astronauts’ only way into space—and use the station on your own, despite the fact that it was largely a NASA construction project. What’s more, you’ll no longer sell us the NK-33 and RD-180 engines we currently buy from you for our Atlas V boosters, at least for any launches of military satellites.

Ooh, smack! Now put down your lightsaber young Skywalker. Here’s why we’re not impressed:

First of all, you’ve conveniently scheduled the shutdown of your Soyuz taxi service for 2020, or four years before we plan to abandon the ISS and drop it in the drink anyway. Why wait until then? Could it be the cool $76 million we pay you per seat—cash that an oil-drunk economy like yours needs when fossil fuel prices are falling? But, as you surely know, at least two American companies—Orbital Sciences and Elon Musk’s SpaceX—will all but certainly have their own for-lease spacecraft flying well before then, and even NASA, which has been inexcusably slow in getting a next generation manned vehicle built, may be back in the game by 2020. In other words, you’re going to quit selling us a service we weren’t planning to use anymore anyway. (According to an e-mail from NASA to TIME, by the way, you’ve not even officially been in touch about your new plans, though you did take the time to let the media know—a little like breaking up over Twitter.)

As for the engines: yes, it’s true that the NK-33 and D-180 are nice bits of hardware and the Atlas does rely on them. But the Atlas pre-dates you, Vlad. Remember John Glenn? He flew on one of them, as did the ICBMs we were building in those days and pointing your way—and you guys weren’t exactly selling us the hardware we needed to take you out. You don’t want the revenue that comes from globalized trade? OK, so we’ll in-source our engines again and keep the cash at home.

Look, Czar Descamisodo, history will decide if your Ukrainian adventure was a winning hand. But the Space Race is over and America won. Even decades after the glory days of the moon landings, it’s still NASA that’s got spacecraft approaching, orbiting or on the surface of Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto and multiple asteroids. Russia? Not so much. The world will have to reckon with you for as long as you choose to misbehave in Europe and anywhere else your eye may wander. But in space? We’re fine without you. Tranquility Base, out.

TIME russia

Russia Takes U.S. Fight Into Space

Putin Visits KBP Instrument Bureau
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin attends a meeting at the KBP Instrument Bureau, a high-precious weapon plant in Tula, 160 km. south of Moscow, on Jan. 20, 2014 Sasha Mordovets—Getty Images

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has threatened to deactivate U.S. Global Positioning Systems on Russian soil, suspend cooperation on the International Space Station and deny U.S. astronauts seats on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft

Moscow threatened to deactivate all U.S. Global Positioning Systems on Russian soil Tuesday as part of an escalating dispute over a satellite infrastructure agreement, as well as threatening to withdraw from agreements on the International Space Station.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin lashed out at U.S. negotiators during a Tuesday press conference, calling the U.S. an “unreliable partner” and vowing to retaliate if the U.S. does not allow Russia to install its own GPS systems, known as GLONASS, on U.S. soil, the Moscow Times reports.

He also threatened to suspend Russia’s cooperation on the International Space Station by 2020, suggesting that U.S. astronauts, deprived of seats on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, could always reach the space station “using a trampoline.”

The U.S. currently operates 11 GPS stations in Russia, which are used to guide rocket and satellite launches. The threats follow Washington’s move to review whether infrastructure agreements with Russia pose a threat to national security, as the U.S. seeks to distance itself from Russia after its actions in Ukraine.

Rogozin has a history of sending feisty tweets to U.S. officials, most notably to “Comrade @BarackObama” after the U.S. added him to a list of Russian officials sanctioned over the annexation of Crimea in March.

[Moscow Times]

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